Why people quit – Perseverance and how to build it

Why is it so many of us give up the moment we face difficulty? We start with good intentions, chasing our goals and dreams, then abandon them when things don’t go our way. Napoleon Hill states that “The most common cause of failure is the habit of quitting.”

Having run a recruiting agency for most of my life, I have gained deep insight into why people quit. Leaders and doers alike should all be asking, “How can we build grit and perseverance?”  Face it, you need a strong dose of perseverance if we want to be successful!

Studying motivational leaders, including Steve Covey, Anthony Robbins, and Grant Cardone, provides valuable insight on how to persevere:

  1. Start with a big important goal – Take a long-term view and go after something meaningful.
  2. Expect setbacks and disappointment – Prepare yourself mentally so you are not surprised.
  3. Accept that if you don’t persevere you won’t reach your goals – grit is the only way to succeed.

I agree with the experts and all of those statements.  However, those views are based on intellectual concepts and by themselves rarely effect behavior.  Most of us know and understand these fundamentals already, but many are not persevering. We end up quitting along the way.

The only way to change your behavior is to change your emotions.  Emotions are more primal than thoughts. Emotions precede thoughts and drive behavior.  Emotions are the essence of our behavior. Emotions arise in our limbic system, an old part of our brain that controls our actions. Thoughts arise in our frontal cortex, the new part of our brain that controls reason.

If you want to keep your eye on the prize and persevere long enough to succeed, discover the emotion behind the goal, and how you will feel once successful.  A goal can only elicit thought and thoughts don’t drive behavior. When we elicit emotion, we are closer to driving action and behavioral change. Behind every goal lies an emotion.  Things like respect, pride, adoration and freedom are all emotions and can become our behavioral drivers.

Even so, large numbers of us simply quit. The answer to why we quit may be in our psyche. BF Skinner, a famous psychologist, pioneered the concept of ‘Negative Reinforcement.’ Negative Reinforcement states that a behavior becomes reinforced and repeated when that behavior allows us to avoid a negative stimulus or something that feels painful. When you quit, that behavior allows you to avoid the pain you feel when you hit an obstacle or feel discouragement. Therefore, quitting gets reinforced and you find it easier to do. Quitting keeps you from the pain temporarily caused by your discouragement. Quitting makes you feel better. The problem is, it is a temporary fix, and quitting can cause long term problems by keeping you from your goals and dreams.

Once we understand the psychology of emotions, how they affect our behavior, and the reasons why we quit, we can build our perseverance and increase our likelihood for success! Whether you have a Finance Job, a Technology Job, a Human Resources Job or any job at all, perseverance drives success!


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